The Tyne and Wear Metro has seen the biggest rise in passengers of any light rail transit system in the UK outside of London.
Latest figures from the Department for Transport reveal in 2014/15 there was a massive 38.1m passenger journeys on it – a 6.7% increase on last year.
This has also led to a 4.4% increase in revenue to £47.9m, the highest figure it has ever posted.
Nationally there were 239.8m journeys on Light Rail and Tram systems, up 5.6% on last year.
The only system to have a bigger increase in passenger journeys than the Metro was the Docklands Light Railway in London whose 110.2m journeys represented an 8.5% year-on-year increase.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 June 2015
A stark warning has been issued about the future of Northumberland, which has been described as a political no man’s land that is dying on its feet.
It was delivered by the Labour MP for Wansbeck, Ian Lavery, after official figures revealed it to be one of the worst-performing economic areas in the whole of Britain.
Its perilous state was shown in the ‘gross value-added’ (GVA) statistics for 2013, which detail the value of wages and profits from goods and services produced.
For Northumberland, the figure is just £13,481 per head of population, the fifth worst in Britain, and dwarfed by the highest figure of £135,888 in inner London west.
Mr Lavery said at the root of the worrying figures was the fact that traditional heavy industries like mining have never been properly replaced, while the county struggles to compete with Scotland, which gets much more Government financial help.
“We have some great small businesses here but they are not on the same scale as mining,” he said.
“We’re a political no-man’s land. I really fear for the future. People need to be encouraged to invest here and it should be made a special case. It’s dying on its feet.”
His comments were echoed by fellow Northumberland MP Blyth Valley’s Ronnie Campbell, who said the figures showed how the county had been abandoned by successive governments of all colours.
“To put it right we need to be made a special case,” he said.
“We don’t want to be a basket case. They have to come up with a new Barnett formula which benefits this region.”
There had been talk of scrapping the Barnett formula, a local authority funding mechanism which favoured Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when drawn up 34 years ago to provide a boost to economies there, which were then struggling.
However, in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, in what was seen as an attempt to ensure a ‘No’ vote victory, all three major parties vowed to continue it.
Mr Campbell said as a result of the extra cash, Scotland can offer more inducements to new companies to invest there.
“It’s only 50 miles up the road. When the Barnett formula was drawn up, it was done to help Scotland, which was struggling. Now it isn’t and we are, it should be redrawn to help us.”
North East Chamber of Commerce Policy and Research Manager Mark Stephenson said:
“For many years we have campaigned about the lack of fairness of the Barnett formula, which seems to be having an increasingly negative impact on the GVA figures.
“Northumberland has many excellent businesses and a thriving tourism offer, but it is one of the counties that has been adversely impacted by the public sector cuts.”
Meanwhile Mr Lavery said: “When people talk about the North East they think of what Newcastle and Sunderland are getting, they think of Nissan and the Tyne and Wear Metro.
“But Northumberland is a million miles away from this.
“The best thing about this county is the resilience of its people.
“They will deliver if given the opportunity; they just need equal opportunities.”
Across the region the GVA per head stands at £17,381, compared with £40,215 in London. Only Wales, at £16,893, and Northern Ireland, at £17,948, have lower figures.
Tyneside performs best in the North East, with a GVA per head of £20,514, although this is still some way below the UK average of £23,294.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 12 Dec 2014
It’s green for go in South Tyneside ahead of next year’s general election after the borough’s first Parliamentary candidate threw her hat into the ring.
The Green Party has announced that primary school support worker Shirley Ford is to fight for the South Shields constituency next May.
The 50-year-old, of South Shields, says her campaign will centre on public concerns over the state of the town centre and the need for a decent living wage.
The mother of one will also highlight her party’s opposition to the potential extraction of coal to convert into gas along a large stretch of the region’s coastline.
Mrs Ford has experience as a candidate, having previously stood for her home town set at the 2010 general election.
“We have had an upsurge in new members since the Scottish devolution vote.
“People want to hear different voices, different ideas, and it’s not all about Ukip. People want positive choices that don’t just play on people’s fears.
“One of the main issues we picked up during the recent Westoe by-election was public concern over our high street, which is dying, and over the council’s grand, shiny regeneration plan to attract big names to the town.
“We have seen what has happened with these big businesses in the past. They just up and leave if they are not making the profits they require.
“We’d like to see much more support for local small businesses who are loyal and stay in the town.
“Protection for people in the workplace is also on our agenda, and we will be pushing the council and its contractors to bring in a decent living wage sooner than they have promised.”
Mrs Ford is also unhappy at the cabinet system adopted by South Tyneside Council.
“It means the leader of the council and a half a dozen others make all the major decisions, and the backbenchers have no power at all. We want to bring back proper committees.”
Mrs Ford has been the Keep Metro Public campaign’s South Tyneside co-ordinator, opposing privatisation of the Tyne and Wear Metro system.
She has also volunteered in Kenya for a safe drinking water project and has worked for many years on human rights and anti-poverty campaigns.
The Green Party also plans to fight the Jarrow constituency, with a candidate to be announced soon.
Source – Shields Gazette, 28 Oct 2014
The North East Combined Authority has voted for a plan which could give councils power over when and how often bus services run in Tyne and Wear
What is a QCS?
A Quality Contract Scheme is a legal power over bus services by a council. In this case, the North East Combined Authority will set ticket prices, routes and timetables across Tyne and Wear and on some routes in and out of County Durham and Northumberland.
NECA will also decide what types of buses are used. Nexus, the public body which devised this scheme and currently manages the Tyne and Wear Metro, will collect fares and pay bus companies to provide bus services through contracts. This is a big change to the present market, where buses companies decide on prices and routes.
What is wrong with the current system?
NECA believes a QCS will be better than leaving things as they are. It argues people are put off using buses because fares have gone up on average 3% more than inflation for a decade.
Today, councils pay bus operators to provide less-used bus services, and subsidise some fares – as well as funding the free bus pass for older and disabled people.
This adds up to £56m-a-year in Tyne and Wear, money is running short and the cost of the free bus pass – which councils must pay by law – is growing, meaning that the other bus services councils pay for will have to be withdrawn.
So, everyone agrees it is great?
Not exactly. The bus companies – mostly Stagecoach, Arriva and Go-Ahead – strongly disagree with the move and recommended a voluntary system that gives them more freedom. They say a QCS a “huge gamble” that could lead to higher fares, worse services and higher tax bills in the long run.
Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also has “serious concerns”. He said profitable services in urban Tyne and Wear subsidise the rural bus network in Northumberland and County Durham. He is worried that subsidy would dry up under the new QCS.
Will it mean services cost more or less?
Nexus says fares are likely to go down. Future fare rises will be limited to inflation levels and only changed once a year.
New cheap fares for people aged 16 to 18 will be the same price as today’s fares for children.
There will be discounts for students and a new deal for older and disabled people who want to travel before 9:30am.
Nexus says around four in five adult passengers will see prices stay the same or go down when the new QCS fare zones begin.
Won’t this cost councils lots of money, then?
The idea is it will actually save councils money. Bus companies now make about £20m profit in the region every year, but Nexus estimates 80% of that money leaves the region. NECA says more of this profit from fares will be re-invested locally and this in turn will protect services now funded by councils that might otherwise be lost.
How would an Oyster card-style system work here?
In London, the one Oyster card allows you to travel on any bus, any train, any tube or any ferry. They can use Oyster as a season ticket or they can use Oyster to pay for single journeys.
The Tyne and Wear version will be called the Smartcard. Having one will get you on any bus, any Metro, the ferry or local train.
If you travel paying for single journeys and reach the daily ticket price, what you pay is capped – so you will always get the best deal, without needing to plan your day in advance. The technology for the Smartcard is in place already.
What if I am travelling in or out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham or Northumberland?
Most bus routes in and out of Tyne and Wear from County Durham, and some of those from Northumberland, are included in the plan for the whole route. That means the Smart tickets, the QCS network and lower prices will be available when you travel into Tyne and Wear.
Will there be fewer buses and will buses go the same routes?
Routes will be the same as now on the first day of a QCS, Nexus says. The difference is people can suggest improvements through new Bus Boards in each area.
Council leaders want to protect services and begin to grow them. They hope it will ultimately mean cheaper fares and bus and rail networks that work together better.
If the QCS does not happen, Nexus and NECA say cuts are inevitable, particularly to young people’s fares, school buses and evening services now paid for by local councils.
How will the process work if QCS is passed?
It will be April 2017 before a QCS starts – council leaders will make a final decision next year after an independent panel has reviewed the 900-page scheme agreed by NECA this week. If it goes ahead it will take Nexus two years to let contracts and gear up for change, with lots of information and engagement with customers on fare changes, smart cards and other benefits.
What happens to the bus companies and their staff?
About 3,000 people now work on bus services in Tyne and Wear, which in future will be included in the Nexus contracts.
Staff will work on the same routes and their jobs, wages and pensions will be protected by law – plus Nexus has said it will give further protections to staff – even if they have to change the bus company they work for. The scheme is supported by the Unite union.
What will happen if bus companies take legal action in the meantime?
Bus companies are worried they will lose business to rival bidders. They have threatened legal action against NECA and Nexus. Both public bodies insist they are using the law properly, however.
Nexus says QCS is legal and based on the best available facts and figures. It has also said all possible steps will be taken to make sure legal action doesn’t slow down its plan for a QCS.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 26 Oct 2014
An MP has said the North-East has been “totally ignored once again” in a Government consultation on rail travel.
The Government is consulting on future Northern and TransPennine franchises which start in February 2016.
Plans have already been unveiled for major improvements to Manchester train stations and the possibility of electrification of the railway lines to York or Leeds has been raised.
But Andy McDonald, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, said the North-East and especially the Tees Valley is being “totally ignored.”
In a written response he pointed to an Institute of Institute of Public Policy Research report which showed that for nearly £3,000 spent per person on transport in London and the South-East just £5 is spent in the North-East.
He also said current TransPennine trains were “third rate,” any investment in the North-East was confined to the Tyne and Wear Metro and the current franchise plans were likely to lead to ticket office closures and price hikes for customers. Stopping electrification at York or Leeds would also reduce the region to being left with mere “shuttle services to the 21st Century.”
He continued: “I went to one presentation about rail with the secretary of Transport about this and all I could see on the screen was an arrow pointing North-East. That was our only mention. I went beserk. There’s nothing for us, despite the fact that we’re the only region outside London actually with a positive contribution to GDP. It’s like the North doesn’t exist at all outside the M62 corridor.”
Mr McDonald said he had sympathy with The Hannah Mitchell Foundation which campaigns for the North to have a regional Government. The Foundation has appealed directly to the Labour Party to promise to make changes if elected to the franchise to include new trains which it says should be made in the north.
Companies will be chosen to run the new rail franchises in the coming year.
Source – Northern Echo, 18 Aug 2014
A long-running dispute which saw 19 days of strike action by cleaners working on the Tyne and Wear Metro has been resolved in the clearner’s favour.
Over the past 18 months, the staff, who are employed by Churchill Services, have fought bosses over minimum wage and workplace justice. and have now been offered a 5% rise over the next four years and an extra day’s leave from January 2014.
The general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, Bob Crow, said it was a “landmark victory”.
Mr Crow said: “This pay deal, which lifts our cleaner members on this key North East transport contract out of the shackles of the minimum wage and on the pathway to a living wage, is a breakthrough that will send out the clearest possible signal to low-paid workers throughout the land that if they fight, they can win.”